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Uganda’s Oil & Gas Charm-Offensive on Chinese Companies as Activists Intensify EACOP Protests

A protester holds a placard calling for a halt to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), during a demonstration by the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion, in central London on April 24, 2023. Ben Stansall / AFP

Climate security campaigner 350.org is pleading with financiers to withhold support of the construction of the 1,443km East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) which cuts across Tanzania and Uganda.

On Thursday, the New York-based organization accused France’s TotalEnergies of profiteering from Africa by exploiting its labor and neglecting host communities. The move comes as Uganda is readying itself for the third licensing round of its oil & gas exploration aimed at further expanding investment opportunities in the sector.

TotalEnergies controls a 62% stake in EACOP while the other shareholders, Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) control 15% and China’s CNOOC Uganda Limited has 8%.

Even as opposition mounts against EACOP, Ugandan companies have the blessing of their government to collaborate with the Chinese bilaterally in the promotion of technology adoption and use.

Speaking on Wednesday during the China-Uganda Investment Economic and Trade Promotion in Kampala, Uganda’s Energy Minister Opolot Okaasai brushed aside environmentalists’ concerns and said that the East African nation offers great opportunities in the oil and gas sector.

Citing the EACOP Project, Okaasai noted that China was a “creditable development and business partner. He said that through such partnerships unemployed youths will gain technical skills that will help with job creation.

EACOP has continually faced opposition from activists and the European Parliament on claims that the project would violate human rights while also affecting the environment. The Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) also published an analysis last year claiming that the project would see 379 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) emitted in the 25-year lifetime of the project.

Despite the opposition, Uganda and Tanzania are continuing with the project aimed at boosting the economies of the two countries. In the same cluster of oil and gas projects falls the Tilenga and Kingfisher Development Projects under the Lake Albert development project.

Okaasai said that the upcoming third licensing round for the Tilenga Project offered investment opportunities in the downstream segment of Uganda’s oil and gas sector. TotalEnergies controls a 56.6% stake in Tilenga in partnership with the Chinese state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and UNOC.

The project encompasses the development of six fields and the drilling of approximately 400 wells from 31 sites. One of the fields is situated within Murchison Falls Park, while the others are located outside the park, in sparsely populated rural areas predominantly dedicated to agriculture.

CNOOC is also the contractor of the Kingfisher Development Project which is one of Uganda’s first major upstream oil projects. The project is in partnership with Total and Tullow Oil, each holding a 33.33% stake.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Uganda is banking on EACOP having approved the construction of the 300,000-b/d pipeline that will transport crude 897 miles from Kabaale, Hoima district, Uganda, to the Port of Tanga in Tanzania. The crude is aimed at the international market.

Rights-of-way in Uganda are still being acquired with construction expected to start in November 2023. Despite the challenges, financing the oil and gas projects starting with EACOP remains an important achievement for Uganda and Tanzania.

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